SHIAWASSEE COUNTY – More than 50 people attended the June 28 meeting of the Shiawassee County Planning Board. Nearly all attended due to the wind energy ordinance the planning board is developing. The focus of the June 28 meeting was wind turbine setbacks.
Planning Board member Peter Preston suggested a setback of 150 percent of the wind turbine height for primary structures (inhabited); 200 percent of the height for schools, churches and hospitals; and 100 percent for participating properties (those benefiting). Preston said he is working from the stance of what is reasonable for the state of Michigan. He also recommended the wind turbines be set 100 percent of the distance to power lines, unless the utility signs a waiver.
“We will continue to listen to the public,” Preston said.
Board member Michael Bruff asked, “What is the definition of height?”
Preston responded, “To the tip of the blade.”
Fairfield Township Trustee Tim Riegle, of Elsie, told the county planning board, “I’d like to see it at least at the property line, plus 200 feet. Did you hear about the blade that fell off?”
Joshua Nolan, an attorney from Toledo, Ohio, said, “If an APEX representative had bothered to show up, he would say these are rare occurrences.”
Nolan went on to cite a number of recent wind turbine failures, and stated there have been 2,089 wind turbine accidents reported since 2008. “The more wind turbines there are, the more likely there will be accidents. Safety is the number one concern of the planning commission,” Nolan said.
He addressed Preston’s call for wind turbine setback as related to specific structures. “These people have the right to use their entire property. I am recommending a 400 percent setback,” he said. Nolan stated there have been 370 separate incidents of blade throw. He talked about a problem with toxic smoke.
“If one of these catches fire, stand back; because fire departments don’t have the equipment,” Nolan said.
“Don’t tailor [the ordinance] to one wind turbine developer. Make sure it addresses anyone who comes in. I firmly believe 200 percent is woefully inadequate. If you look at the trend, it’s for much larger setbacks,” he said. He explained wind turbines went from 200 feet tall to 600 feet tall very quickly. “I recommend the 400 percent [of the height] that was recommended for urban residents [by a university study]. Your rural residents deserve the same protection,” Nolan said.
Planning Commission Chairman Bill Thelen asked Nolan, “Can you give me a safe distance?” Nolan responded, “Yes, 10 miles.” He added the distance the planning board might actually adopt is two miles.
Tim Weaver, of Fowler, said Clinton County requires a setback of four times the height for wind turbines. “We asked for 3,000 foot setbacks. If you start asking for 40 decibels [maximum], they look at you. They originally had a 1,200-foot setback. The company changed to taller wind turbines. [Then Clinton County] changed to four times the height.”
Weaver expressed concern over Preston’s recommendation of measuring the setback to the distance of the home and not the property line. “If you only place it at the house, not the property line, how do you evacuate the children from the yard? Why have a special allowance for schools, churches and hospitals when [you] spend more time [at home]?”
Jamie Betts said, she and her husband traveled to Huron County twice to learn about wind turbines. They spoke to two people there who couldn’t sell their homes because of the wind turbines.
The Betts met a couple that was very distraught and they were contract individuals. They asked their names be withheld, but provided a letter describing what they were going through.
The letter explains their home is 1,320 feet from a wind turbine, and can count 120 wind turbines in the area. They can’t sleep with the windows open because the turbines are too loud. The lack of good sleep is impacting their health.
“We can’t see the stars at night,” the letter said. It explains that since they are surrounded by wind turbines, shadow flicker is a problem both in the morning and at night. Her husband even woke up about 3 or 4 a.m. and there was shadow flicker from the moon. They can’t leave the curtains open.
“Our quality of life has forever been changed. There will never be enough compensation for giving up health and quality of life,” the letter said.
Kim Scott said, “I was born in this county and came back.” She had previously worked in Alma and drove past the wind turbines every day. “No way I’d want to live near them,” Scott said.
Other speakers included Norm Stephens of Caro and Robert Callard of Woodhull Township.
Chairman Thelen said, “We’re going to draw something up that seems to be a reasonable fit for the community.”
There were many other concerns expressed by concerned citizens in the audience. In some cases, Thelen had to remind citizens that the focus of the meeting was to discuss setbacks.
The next meeting of the Shiawassee County Planning Board is scheduled for July 26 at 7 p.m. The topic of that meeting is provisions for decommissioning wind turbines and enforcement of violations.
After the meeting, the Citizen followed up with Nolan. He explained he became involved with the proper siting of industrial wind turbines when a project was proposed to be built near his home in 2010. He researched the topic and grew more concerned.
“That concern grew exponentially when I learned that those people in charge of the process (local township board members) had signed leases to have turbines constructed on their property. Faced with open corruption, I helped initiate a recall of those public officials when they refused to recuse themselves from voting on turbine related issues,” he said.
Since then he has been involved in approximately 15 or more such projects around the state of Michigan. He is currently representing a member of Regulated Wind of Shiawassee County.
Nolan said, “I would encourage Shiawassee County residents to do their own research and reach their own conclusions regarding what is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their families.”